After A Tree Falls…Nature Responds

Just after the tree company demolished the front yard tree, I somberly examined the remaining stump and photographed it for posterity, sadly contemplating the loss as a necessary but unfortunate development.

I even stood upon the stump in a defiant expression of frustration at the total destruction of a long term relationship with a lovely arboreal companion.

The link above tells a little more about what followed this summer, and my astonishment about the power of nature to renew itself, but this next series of photos really adds a fitting follow-up to the disappointment I felt last September when the tree was cut down.

This is the same stump this morning as I took a walk around to the front yard. It is hard to believe that it has simply refused to be extinguished!

This growth is now fuller and amazingly taller than me! It’s getting to the point where I may end up having to trim it down again. It is oddly reassuring to me that the tree seems not to want to “give up the ghost,” and has somehow defiantly asserted itself so that I can’t now stand again on the stump, unless I figure out some way to make my way through the foliage that has erupted all around it.

In an interesting side note, I recently attended the wedding ceremony of a family friend and was pleasantly surprised that the location for the reception included a large meadow out in back of the venue, and when I stepped out into it during a break in the action, I discovered this wonderfully robustly healthy tree cousin of substantial proportions.

In a very comforting way, standing next to this behemoth of the same variety as the one removed from my front yard gave me a sense of calm and admiration for what is possible in Nature when given sufficient opportunity to grow.

I’m actually hoping to see some sort of autumnal transition to occur in the regenerated tree stump out front, and will post something either way when enough time has passed.

Life Revealing Itself

There is a movement taking place within me and around me as the year progresses toward the autumn and winter seasons.  It’s creating a degree of both anticipation and trepidation, which I find a bit unsettling.  Even when we are anticipating the arrival of something wonderful, it alters our outlook if we are paying attention well enough, just as naturally as when we look ahead with some anxiety toward uncertainty or disruption in our immediate circumstance.

It has always been like this for me. Even as a young man I recall both the excitement of the arrival of new experience, especially when it is expected to be of a positive nature, as well as the fear brought about by not knowing what will happen, or how I might endure adverse circumstances.  In my early youth, I was always reacting to whatever circumstances prevailed at the time, and rarely had any time to prepare myself or any idea of how to deal with those circumstances, beyond what I could conjure on the fly.  

I was notoriously impulsive and spontaneous in most every circumstance, and often acted without thinking things through, no matter what the outcome might potentially be. This approach to living my life occasionally served me well when the outcome was advantageous in some way, but more often than not, my lack of sophistication and inability to mitigate my impulsive nature caused either me or someone else a degree of difficulty that was daunting in one way or another, and it took me many years to begin to understand why I always seemed to find out the hard way that my choices needed to be less impulsive. 

Joining the military at age 20 was a turning point like no other before it, and although it forced me to implement a greater degree of self-discipline, once I became more confident and successful in that environment, I still wasn’t completely able to let go of my spontaneous nature altogether.  I had finally stepped back away from the precipice of chaos, at least enough to be more measured in my actions, and the overall percentage of advantageous outcomes increased dramatically.

As a mature person in my thirties, it became a necessity to become more consistently reliable since I had become a parent to small children, and while I was able to provide for them sufficiently in the main, I constantly struggled with my own well-being in the process.  Throughout my working life, even when I had achieved a reasonably stable and prosperous level of income, I constantly had to submerge my personal interests so as not to endanger the well-being of those in my care.

This constant back-and-forth condition was both frustrating when it held me back, and equally compelling when it led to a burst of progress toward my personal goals.  The contrast between the two conditions was maddening at times, and there were moments which tested my resolve in both directions. It took me until well into my fifties to settle down enough to manage my general outlook in a way that didn’t undermine either my daily obligations or my personal well-being.

I know now, after many years of study and contemplation of the subjective experience of human consciousness, that in order to understand it and to move toward it, we need to realize that whatever the source of consciousness may be, it goes much deeper, and is more meaningful and profound than we currently suppose.  This search I have been on all these years has clearly been aided by my willingness to be open to the experiences of my personal journey, even with all of its starts and stops—even with each step forward and back. 

Just as it seems now, in consideration of our current understanding of the laws of physics and quantum theory, that the physical universe which we observe and study is reliant upon unobservable phenomena and additional dimensions outside of our direct perception—in part—a manifestation of non-material aspects—so too now, does consciousness appear to be, at its source, non-material.  The difficulty then becomes, trying to discern how the non-material aspects of the universe and of consciousness affect the physical world and interact with our daily waking awareness of our existence.

Many philosophers and neuroscientists wish to express the phenomenon of consciousness as an emergent property of our brain physiology, and in doing so, eliminate any other possible avenue of exploration and explanation.  We can certainly sympathize with this inclination in view of the enormous progress of the physical sciences generally, and of neuroscience specifically, that has been made without invoking any additional layers of existence or positing immaterial forces or energies that may contribute to the full understanding of both cosmology and consciousness.

Over the decades of my existence, what has consistently led me to be convinced to the contrary has been my own profound inner sense of something taking place within me, which informs me about my existence, in addition to my own personal physical experience of the world.  To the extent that I have studied the physical sciences and the laws of physics, and read and listened to a host of great thinkers of human history, nothing I have encountered along the way has been sufficient to dissuade me from concluding that my own personal awareness—my own subjective experience of existence—my own consciousness—is perhaps the greatest source for acknowledgment and discernment about my existence that I could possibly hope to possess.  There could be no more reliable source of inspiration or self-awareness for any of us than our own subjective experience, and while none of us is infallible or omnipotent, no other aspect of our awareness is more certain than our own experience of existence.

Anyone with generally good health and a reasonably stable physiology experiences their physical existence through the five senses, and processes the signals sent to their brains from the central nervous system as their waking consciousness, and so long as these physical systems remain nominally functional, our experiences of the world can be stored in memory, we can learn new skills, and generally remember most of the important knowledge we gain through experience.  The mechanisms of brain physiology are indeed wondrous and fascinating to study, and without these important functions operating correctly, our ability to be aware and to be able to experience our existence can be compromised. One need only look to the pathologies present in the human population from disease, genetic defects, and serious injuries to the brain, in order to appreciate the importance of these systems in providing us with access to a functional and productive subjective experience.

What may not be quite so clear is the full understanding of how it is exactly that these functions are accompanied by our extraordinary subjective awareness.  My whole life has contained an array of experiences and a keen sense of awareness of a level of existence that cannot be described in temporal terms, and several key experiences have provided me with an affirmation of my general notion that I have carried with me throughout, that everything we see, everything we do, every act, every nuance of experience, is made possible by a source which cannot be defined in material terms alone. 

Especially during times of profound sadness and exquisite joy, during any of the many extreme circumstances that occur in our lives, we are more readily able to sense our closeness to this source if we are open to doing so. 

Even on a much smaller scale, when we encounter other individual human spirits, with whom we immediately feel a sense of connection, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, we may become aware of our connection to THEM, in a way that is so clear and so deep, that we are able to sense something existent within them that connects us with no ambiguity at all. 

The feeling of being connected to other like spirits, even when it is immediate and without precedent in our experience, can overwhelm us at times, making it terribly difficult to ignore, or to dismiss it as some sort of response to a biological process or instinctive reaction within us.  In my experience, reviewing these episodes of connection that have occurred so often in my travels, gives me good cause to suppose, that what we generally attribute to basic instincts or biological imperatives, or even to our physiological responses to stimuli, all of it may well be a manifestation of an ineffable source which subsequently allows us to “instinctively” lean toward the awareness of non-material aspects of life in the physical universe.  When we fall in love or when we feel enormously compelled to seek out certain situations or individuals or when we follow a hunch or are obsessed by certain ideas, all of these are indications of a connection to something larger than ourselves. Since we only have a limited range of responses that we CAN give, we tend to associate the brain’s activity as being the source of those responses, rather than recognizing the possibility that the source might be something else entirely.

When The Path of Destiny Calls

We do not always choose to arrive on the path of destiny. We may avoid it at times it if we are determined to do so, but at some point, no matter how desperate we become or how clever we are, one way or another, the path will find us.

Occasionally, if we are truly on the path, the universe will rise up to meet us, and join us on the path. It may walk awhile with us, or it may visit unexpectedly for a short time and then go away.  It may linger without saying a word, but when we walk our true path, the universe walks with us, even though it is a manifestation of something much greater and grander still.

Some may wish to suggest that the universe is already pretty darn grand just as it is—just as we see it. When we look up at night through our telescopes in the backyard or through a powerful earth-bound telescope or even while reviewing the feed from the Hubble Space Telescope, we will see a universe that is beyond grand—beyond a comprehensive description—defying all of our attempts to describe it. Because it is so vast, it contains vast quantities of the mysterious, and the wondrous, and the beautiful.

What we sometimes refer to as “the soul,” or “the spirit within us,” may actually be a reflection of the mysterious and profound transcendent aspect of the universe.  We are a part of the universe, and the universe is a manifestation of something truly bigger than the grandest view through any telescope.

Along with everything we recognize and understand in that view, considering the universe even as a temporal physical structure, fully understanding the way it works seems, at least currently, to be beyond our grasp.  Of course, even our vague understanding of what we can actually observe, even considering the parameters of our current cosmological knowledge; we do understand that what we DO know is only a fraction of what there IS to know.

A materialist view takes the position that what cannot be demonstrated to exist physically, or as the result of a physical process, is either irrelevant or based on speculation or supposition, and while we must acknowledge the limited ability of the scientific method to confirm the existence of phenomena or principles that are immaterial, this inability is not, in and of itself, a definitive indication that such aspects do not exist.

BECAUSE such aspects are not demonstrable empirically, in my view, increases the likelihood that they DO exist. Let me explain.

Let’s suppose for the moment that immaterial and ineffable aspects of reality are ESSENTIAL to our physical existence, and although they cannot be unambiguously demonstrated to be a part of our substantial physical reality, over the centuries, it became widely accepted that they do actually exist.

Our subjective experience of consciousness would be far less mysterious, and it would be taken for granted that these immaterial concepts and components are simply part of the foundation for the broad spectrum of human experience which includes them. 

Under these conditions, the whole history of human experience, the enormous volume of literature, philosophy, religious ideas and inspirational scientific discoveries, all of it, would be considered a part of the unfolding of our experience of the world, and justify all of our efforts to enhance our survival, in order to gain a greater understanding of our place in the universe.

Now suppose that none of these ineffable elements and ideas have ever existed; since the dawn of modern humans, no other explanations were ever entertained for any reason.  Only physical laws and demonstrable scientific ideas would be considered as being possible to explain the world and the universe.

Suddenly, our actual human history would no longer make any sense at all.  Tens of thousands of years of that history would not contain an overwhelming volume of expressions of those aspects that have been recorded in every epoch, every culture, and every geographic region of the Earth since the dawn of modern humans.  Reports and descriptions of such ideas would never have been made, and through the millennia, there would be only life and death and taxes. No reason to dream or hope for anything other than survival while we live, and no cause to ponder or wonder about anything until we die.

In such a world, our actual human history would be completely incomprehensible.

Unless we humans eventually discover some future method of explaining through the scientific method what is now considered “ineffable,” it only makes sense to approach these ideas with an open mind, and consider what might actually be possible. The main obstacle, as I see it, is the reluctance of many individuals to even entertain the concept of any sort of immaterial principle existing in the first place.

I get it.

Anyone with no experiential encounters with something bigger than themselves, with no sense of an existence beyond the temporal world of the palpable and the graspable could be blamed for being reluctant to embrace such ideas.  Many materialists will cite “Occam’s Razor,” as the most reasonable approach to the most vexing issues in philosophy and science, which posits that the simplest and most basic approach to explain any phenomenon is usually the right one. While it is reasonable for those with no commensurate experience or encounter with anything beyond the five senses, to be skeptical of an existence or a feature of reality that is not accessible to science, simply because there may not be an empirical solution for the mysterious is, in my view, insufficient as a rationale to disregard other possible explanations out of hand.

Every experience and part of the path of my life up to now has been a preparation for and a prelude to what will now follow.  Had my life taken a totally different path; had there been no spiritual awakening or serious temporal disruption to my otherwise ordinary life; had any of the pivotal events in my life turned out differently or had the resulting chaos resolved itself in some other more agreeable fashion, it is likely that none of the words I’ve written over the decades would have been recorded in any of the thousands of pages, represented by the numerous journals and digital files that I currently possess.

My life contains a piece of the answer.  The events of my life have been part of a constant struggle to pursue the answers.  The arrival of the Jonas materials back in the mid-seventies was pivotal to bringing me to a place where the answers would eventually begin to be revealed.  All of the years since then have contained elements and components and pieces of the understanding that I continue to seek to this day.

The path of destiny is something I have eagerly sought to follow, and in equal measure, feared to tread upon.  There have been times, when the path led to events and moments, that were as brilliant as they were desired by me, and at other times, which brought me to my knees in despair at my inability to follow in a way that it seemed I needed to go.  The conflict within me would often swing wildly in opposite directions, and just as some degree of progress was being made, I would find myself paralyzed with either fear or uncertainty as to my course.

I struggled greatly with the pull of opposites. Going in the direction it seemed I needed to go, often presented such a challenge to my temporal life, that I was unable to commit to a particular course of action, and events in my temporal life often led me to pursue actions, which inevitably brought me to an awareness of essential elements, and precipitated startling revelations that were impossible to ignore.

The story of Jonas, as it has been revealed to me through the years, is an attempt to express not only the extraordinary nature of my connection to the ineffable and to the spirit of life, but as a metaphor for the struggle that we all face when the path of destiny calls.  None of us can simply ignore the urgencies of temporal life, even when the draw toward our destiny is as compelling as mine was in the early days of my awareness.

As often as I pressed myself to surge forward into the abyss; as difficult as my temporal life became at times; in spite of the profound and formidable compulsion that descended upon me during those times—I was often thwarted in my attempts to override my personal interests sufficiently to abandon my responsibilities.

Within my own personal subjective experience of my own consciousness, it was often crystal clear to me what it was that I needed to do in order to satisfy the demands of my destiny, and it was rare that my own personal inclinations were at odds with the path as it was revealed to me.  Had I been unrestrained by the circumstances of my personal responsibilities, many times the choices I would have made, would have been of a wholly different character. 

Countless eons passed without awareness being possessed sufficiently in our species in order to develop an adequate mechanism for expressing that awareness. Even when the early hominids had acquired sufficiently complex brain architectures to support awareness, there was no established process for expressing it.  It took many thousands of years of development to acquire that capacity, and tens of thousands more to devise methods of coherently expressing what was taking place within us, utilizing the acquisition of our newfound self-awareness, supported by the evolutionary architecture inside the brains of our fellow human ancestors.

After A Tree Falls

Back in September of last year, I posted an account of the removal of the tree out in front of my home, whose presence we had enjoyed for the previous thirty years of residence in our neighborhood, and I shared a video of me reciting the poem I wrote in response to the event itself, but also to the significance of the event for me personally, as the caretaker of that magnificent natural structure.

Since posting that account, I have observed the natural progress of the living entities which surround our modest home, and have marveled at the tenacity and the almost human determination exhibited by the plants and trees to not only survive, but also to thrive, in spite of the determined efforts on my part to remove and diminish their presence at my location.

While I have not really wanted to conduct the necessary trimming and pruning and removal of the natural plants and trees in the yard, intellectually I understood the need for doing so, and deliberately approached the tasks with respect and affection, even as I had to acknowledge that my efforts were, in some ways, detrimental to the natural life all around me.

Back in December of 2018, I posted images of the results of my pruning and removal efforts out in my front yard, where a sapling descended from the original tree out front had grown so tall and so formidably so close to the house that I had to remove it.  After I chopped the fledgling tree down to less than a foot from the ground, I followed up with an image of the bush that sprang up from the stump I left in the ground.

In an image I shared that was taken in the following autumn of 2019, you could see that the “bush” had not turned to the colorful results I had hoped would occur, and I supposed at that time that there wouldn’t be such a development.

In the spring of 2020, I forcibly removed all of the ivy crawling up the front of the house, and cut the stump completely down to the ground level once again. 

Imagine my astonishment when I began to attend to the summer outdoor chores this year of cutting the grass and straightening up the yard, and observed the incredibly dynamic return of almost every living thing out in front of the house.  The ivy had not only returned, but appeared to be twice as thick and dense as it was when I had removed it.

Fast forward to June of 2021, and against every expectation, not only had the “bush” from the sapling returned with a vengeance, but the stump of the original tree out front had sprouted new life in an amazing display of determination in resisting the efforts to be removed completely.

Clearly, I had taken no pleasure whatsoever in the removal of the tree out front, even though it was done with respect and due consideration of what was necessary and prudent, given the circumstances.  My admiration for the power of nature to restore itself had already been well established, and my awareness of the sometimes astonishing abilities of the natural world to replenish itself in the face of detrimental conditions and adverse circumstances had been admired by me, well before any of these events.   

While consideration and reflection by me on all of these ideas had taken place over the course of many years of participation in activities in the remote forests and mountains of the northeast corridor of the USA, and elsewhere, it occurred to me that knowledge of these principles could just as easily have happened, right in my own yard.

It seems likely that it will be necessary, as time progresses, to attend to these matters with some degree of regularity, if I am to maintain a handle on the chaos and dynamics playing out in my local plot of land, but even as I plan for the steps to take to keep nature at bay here, I realize that the natural world cannot be tamed completely, no matter where you travel in the world. 

What You Hold In Thought

“The evolution of life in the double direction of individuality and association has nothing accidental about it: it is due to the very nature of life.”

“Essential also is the progress to reflection. If our analysis is correct, it is consciousness, or rather supra-consciousness, that is at the origin of life. Consciousness, or supra-consciousness, is the name for the rocket whose extinguished fragments fall back as matter; consciousness, again, is the name for that which subsists of the rocket itself, passing through the fragments and lighting them up into organisms.”

“The effort we make to transcend pure understanding introduces us into that more vast something out of which our understanding is cut, and from which it has detached itself. And, as matter is determined by intelligence, as there is between them an evident agreement, we cannot make the genesis of the one without making the genesis of the other. An identical process must have cut out matter and the intellect, at the same time, from a stuff that contained both. Into this reality we shall get back more and more completely, in proportion as we compel ourselves to transcend pure intelligence.”

“On this new ground philosophy ought then to follow science, in order to superpose on scientific truth knowledge of another kind, which may be called metaphysical. Thus combined, all our knowledge, both scientific and metaphysical, is heightened. In the absolute we live and move and have our being. The knowledge we possess of it is incomplete, no doubt, but not external or relative. It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and of philosophy.”

—excerpts from “Creative Evolution,” by Henri Bergson, 1907

The world is neither simply what we perceive it to be, nor is it strictly a metaphysical mystery beyond our understanding.  These two apparently opposing approaches to our understanding are, it seems to me, more correctly to be two components of the same conundrum.  We tend these days to gravitate toward specialization in almost every arena of endeavor, and in doing so, we seem often to be missing the larger picture of what might be most helpful in increasing our understanding generally.

Mr. Bergson, who wrote extensively about the nature of matter and intelligence more than 100 years ago, even without the accelerated advances in knowledge we enjoy currently, correctly framed the question of how we might advance our understanding.  We cannot simply focus on a narrow selection of material, intellectual, or spiritual criteria and cannot reasonably consider only one approach as sufficient to give us the broadest understanding.  Mr. Bergson just wasn’t equipped enough by the technology of his day to take it further.

Today, we know more and understand better about the world in which we live, but we are still struggling to catch up on the broadest inclusion of ideas possible, and we must allow the full investigation to proceed in each of the three realms of material, intellectual, and the spiritual.  It’s not possible to eliminate any reasonable approach just yet, but these three each have important components to contribute.  It’s a generalization in terms of describing the issue, but we definitely need to expand our realm of possibilities to include a variety of approaches which just may support the others in some useful way.

Lots of new material is in progress here at John’s Consciousness, and I hope my visitors and readers will be patient with me as I navigate the path forward.  I have been immersed in some of the most important and profound life works of my nearly 70 years of living this past year or so, and, like most of us, I feel like I just want to break out of isolation into something that truly matters.  I’ve been developing a new approach to sharing my writing here, and when I am ready, I will begin to engage more fully with the content of my writings, and to share more fully the ideas which occupy my heart, mind, and soul. 

Stay tuned.

A Capacity for Intelligence

According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, intelligence is defined as:

noun
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.
2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: “He writes with intelligence and wit.”

In a recent study conducted at the University of Western Ontario, researchers acknowledged the limitations of current scientific research, but offered a basis for suggesting factors to consider. They “looked into the brain areas that are activated by tasks that are typically used to test for intelligence,” and reported their results–

“…based on the set of brain areas that might contribute to those tasks. However don’t get too excited, the methods used have severe limitations and we are still only at the hypothesis level. We do not know how these areas contribute to performance in intelligence tests and we do not know why they are activated and how they interact together to create the behavior.”

http://blog.brainfacts.org/

According to a recently published neuroscientific paper, “a broader definition was agreed to by 52 prominent researchers on intelligence:”

“Intelligence is a very general capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test‑taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—‘catching on’, ‘making sense’ of things, or ‘figuring out’ what to do. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well.”

Reviewing the many related brain structures involved in cognitive functioning, researchers concluded that:

“…variations in these structures and functions may be “endophenotypes” for intelligence — that is, they might be intermediate physiological markers that contribute directly to intelligence. Therefore, genes involved in intelligence might be more closely linked to these variations in brain structure and function than to intelligence itself. In fact, in all studies to date, the genetic influences on these structures and functions were highly correlated with those on general intelligence.”

–excerpts from “The Neuroscience of Human Intelligence Differences,” by Ian J.Deary, Lars Penke and Wendy Johnson

There are a number of individuals today who are beginning to make associations between the technological advances of modern science and some of the ancient esoteric traditions like yoga, in an attempt to explain our subjective experience of consciousness:

“If hypothetical machinery inside neurons fails to explain qualia, (the ‘what-it’s-like’ quality of experience) must we then consider the molecules that make up the neuronal machinery, or the atoms inside the molecules, or the subatomic particles inside the atoms? Where is the difference that causes the qualia of subjective experience? A less problematic explanation is possible. German scientist, Gottfried Leibniz, postulated irreducible quanta of consciousness he termed ‘monads.’ Matter does not create consciousness. Instead, matter is animated by monads. It seems hardly a coincidence that Leibniz’ monads would perfectly fit between the moments of time that lead to Kaivalya, (Yoga term for enlightenment or nirvana.)

Ultimately, Kaivalya is an ineffable experience. But the claim of yoga is that it provides means to experience what is outside of the individualized mind. The experience of going through the center of consciousness and emerging, as it were, on the other side is very much one of turning inside out. In our ordinary consciousness we are turned outwards towards the world-image which we externalized around us.

In going through our consciousness the entire process is reversed, we experience an inversion…that which was without becomes within. In fact, when we succeed in going through our center of consciousness and emerge on the other side, we do not so much realize a new world around us as a new world within us. We seem to be on the surface of a sphere having all within ourselves and yet to be at each point of it simultaneously…the outstanding reality of our experience…is the amazing fact that nothing is outside us.”

–excerpts from article by DONALD J. DEGRACIA, Associate Professor of Physiology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, in EDGESCIENCE MAGAZINE #16 • NOVEMBER 2013

artificial-intelligence-8-638

Recent research in artificial intelligence has begun to approach what might be described as a kind of tipping point, where the lines will likely begin to blur between what is clearly a type of machine intelligence, like the current offerings in robotics and self-driving cars, to something more akin to the kind of intelligence that talks back to you or responds in a more conversational manner like Apple’s “Siri,” and the Windows 10 offering of a personal assistant application called “Cortana.” Many of these innovations are built upon interest in the idea of eventually being able to develop the technologies surrounding A.I. to the point where they will function so much like the human brain, that communicating with them will be virtually indistinguishable from doing so with another live human person.

While this is an enormously appealing concept to our modern sensibilities, and currently fueling a huge amount of research in the industry, even supposing that it might be possible to produce a device or platform commensurate with the trillions of connections between neurons in the human brain, characterizing any resulting machine as either “intelligent” or “conscious,” requires us to re-examine what it means to be intelligent and conscious. Our current understanding of these terms, even as they apply to humans, is still not especially comprehensive or complete, and looking at the development of “human” or “biological” intelligence through the millennia, demonstrates a key component of the challenge in creating an artificial version that might qualify as equivalent.

artificial Human-Evolution1

Early humans and their fellow primates and mammals, along with all the various species endowed with sufficiently complex neural structures and central nervous systems, at some point, eventually possessed a brain or other neural configuration of adequate strength, size, and architecture, which allowed for the retention of memories, and for processing the sensory data gleaned through the available senses. These structures, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, at some point provided the necessary support for adaptive learning or for acquiring a sufficient degree of species-specific abilities, in order for the organism to make efficient use of that information, and to produce a range of results, commensurate with their species-specific capacities and habitation, which enhanced their survival in their respective environments.

Once our ancient ancestors reached a certain level of development, through the integration of incremental evolutionary changes, they achieved a nominal degree of enhanced cognitive talents, attaining a sufficient capacity for what we describe as “human intelligence,” which eventually led to the ability to reason and plan well enough to override emotional distractions, needs and desires, and to awaken to a penetrating level of subjective self-awareness. As any parent of a healthy child can tell you, intelligence does not appear immediately even in modern human children. In spite of advantageous circumstances and environments in which these amazing cognitive human creatures develop, it still requires a minimal degree of relevant experience in the world to accumulate a useful and functional knowledge base, to hone learning skills, and to be able to draw on a collection of memories, which enhance whatever cognitive, genetic, and other physiological resources they might bring to the process.

As a consequence of the random combinations of chromosomes in the human reproductive process, there is a sufficient degree of diversity in the general distribution of combinations available to the human genome, so that each human child has a relatively unique set of circumstances genetically. This diversity is necessary for the health of our species, and as a result, we observe a full range of endowment, which can result in bestowing our descendents with a general baseline capacity for the development of cognitive efficiency, or at the other end of the spectrum, a potential for an enhanced intellectual development, right from the start. A vast array of cultural and environmental variables can either promote or inhibit whatever potential is present, and throughout human history, we have observed how a viable or disadvantageous environment, as well as individual initiative or apathy, can alter the equation in either direction.

It seems likely, in view of these mitigating factors, that it is through a combination of innate cognitive talent, genetic endowment, and environmental conditions that we see contributions to the general flow of intelligence either making a significant appearance, or faltering and struggling to gain ground, in much the same way as it has been since the earliest neural structures appeared in whatever creatures are still existent today. In every case, whatever degree of potential existed within a particular species, it was either successfully developed and exploited for survival, or ended up being thwarted by circumstances from developing successfully enough to sustain a niche for a particular species, resulting in their extinction.

artificial33

Our challenge in the 21st century is finding a way to determine which contributing factors for increasing intelligence can be safely selected by humans for the most productive incorporation into what we are currently describing as “artificial intelligence,” or “machine intelligence.” Unfortunately, no matter what we are ultimately able to do, in my view, we won’t be able to incorporate our humanity fully into machines, nor will we be able to artificially endow them with the experience of “being human.” In order for us to be aware of our experience of existing as a human being, while clearly requiring a variety of nominally functional, finely-tuned, and integrated biological systems, each of which are essential currently, because there is so much more to being a subjectively aware human person, there must be something that it is like to be human, which cannot be precisely replicated by any technological advancement or created through sheer engineering genius. The subjective experience of human consciousness utilizes our very human capacity for intelligence, as well as our access to a penetrating awareness provided by an astonishing array of electrochemical processes in our miraculous brains, but what we are accessing is not PRODUCED by the brain, but rather it is PERCEIVED by it.

It’s interesting to me how some scientists and thinkers in all the various fields of investigation into artificial intelligence believe that it is simply a matter of achieving a sufficient degree of complexity in the structures we devise for the processing of the voluminous data necessary to be equivalent to the human brain, constructing a sufficiently pliable, flexible, and interactive software, driven by the necessary algorithms, and we will eventually produce a sentient, intelligent, and conscious machine.

In his fascinating and expansive book entitled, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” Stephen Hawking posits that if “very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent,” it should follow that “equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way.” He goes on to say that electronic circuits have the same problem as our chemical processes in the brain, which is to process data at a useful speed. He also rightly points out that computers currently have less computational power than “a humble earthworm,” and while they “have the advantage of speed…they show no sign of intelligence.” He also reminds us that even with our capacity for what we call intelligence, that “the human race does not have a very good record of intelligent behavior.”

2 brains

The possession of a capacity for intelligence of any sort, artificial or otherwise, is clearly not a “stand-alone” feature that is sufficient to sustain any species in and of itself. As we have observed throughout the evolutionary history of the natural world, constructing and sustaining a successful organism requires the development of a range of compensatory and complimentary abilities and potentials, commensurate with the designs and functions of a particular species, in order to achieve a requisite degree of balance.

In the case of Homo sapiens, our particular brand of human intelligence, as we currently understand it, appears to be primarily the result of human evolution and progress throughout our history as upright, bipedal, and increasingly cognitive beings. As a result, our species is apparently uniquely well-suited for our evolutionary niche, and dominates currently among the other living organisms, mostly for this very reason. While we share much in common with our primate and mammalian family of creatures, and bearing in mind that we are equally indebted to all living things and to the Earth itself for our continued ability to sustain ourselves, intelligence appears to exist in remarkably adaptive and unique ways in each of the various evolutionary paths for each family of species that coexist with us today.

It would be arrogant to suggest that our variety of intelligence is in any way superior to that enjoyed by other organisms on our planet, except in the context of its usefulness to our specific nature as humans. Our own highly-adaptive nature is fairly well-suited generally to the requirements of our species, and while one might reasonably argue that our inclinations and intelligence are lacking in one way or another, for the most part, even considering our limitations, foibles, and perceived deficits, human intelligence has managed to keep pace with the unfolding of our continued evolution thus far, and providing that we persist in developing and adapting to our ever-changing circumstances, there is cause for optimism in my view.

What we tend to miss in most of our estimations of what sort of artificial intelligence might emerge from our efforts to produce it, is that no matter what results are forthcoming, it will very likely be profoundly different than our own ultimately, in spite of how specifically we aim to recreate the mental processes and physiological structures of our own exquisitely adaptive brains.

Our Most Important Task

Since the very first behaviorally modern humans walked the Earth some 50,000 years ago, there has been an enhanced sophistication in their cognitive talents and an expansion of brainpower brought about by a gradually increased utilization of the human brain’s extraordinary architecture.  Fossil evidence of significantly more creative activities, like making tools out of bones, or markings and decorations on stones, which indicate a greater self-awareness and a capacity for symbolic thinking, began to appear at about that time, but there are competing ideas and sporadic finds that suggest it may have been possible even many years before that time.   

In any event, once the capacity was reached it eventually began to appear more widely in the regional human populations, and advanced rapidly after that point.  Considering the hundreds of thousands of years which it took for Homo sapiens to reach this point, it only took about 40,000 years after that early epoch to land a man on the moon.  This rapid acceleration, comparatively speaking, includes an extraordinary development in syntactically grammatical language and abstract or symbolic thinking, and with thousands of years of experience to build upon, humans have made exponential progress in scientific technologies, as well as achieving a greater understanding of the Universe in which it all takes place.

Sadly, it seems we still have a great deal of work to do in bringing all the diverse cultures and human populations up to speed on how best to proceed along the lines of modernity.

Part of the reason for the disparity in advancement for every human population can be attributed to regional differences in cultural priorities and beliefs, a variety of socio-economic conditions, as well as a lack of resources or an imbalance in the availability of opportunities that exist worldwide.

However, the limiting factors in these examples alone are not sufficient to explain the lack of advancement in the wide range of humanity.  Economic standards can be improved eventually with appropriate investment and attention to correcting whatever imbalances exist in the many regions that have them, and with a dedication to improving education and investment in forward-looking endeavors, we can help to provide the next generations with the tools they require to improve the status of whatever regions need it.   

Beyond these material or phenomenal concerns, though, is the urgent need to understand and appreciate our responsibilities as the species that can alter the future for the better, or risk failing to do so through ignorance or apathy.  We all have a part to play in the unfolding drama of life on Earth, and in order to promote a better future for all, we must be willing to do what is necessary to ensure that future generations are equipped to meet the challenges they will likely face.

Coming to terms with our true nature as evolved human beings, in my view, now requires a degree of attention to our “inner evolution.” With the rapid pace of the last 40,000 years as a guide, it seems clear that we have accomplished much in the phenomenal world of science and technology, and made great strides in coming to terms with our fellow humans, in spite of all the competition and adversarial relationships that exist among the countries of the world.  The same cannot be said of our progress in understanding ourselves. 

The broad range of human interactions these days includes just about every variety of cooperation and conflict that one could imagine.  There are no limits, it seems, to what might possibly develop in both the promise and the peril represented by today’s modern humans.  A significant factor in this uncertainty is the apparent lack of attention to our inner lives—what one might wish to describe as our truest selves.  We spend so much time concerned about the events in the wider world of human society, and yet we often neglect to consider sufficiently the most important influential factor in all of human life—our own subjective experience of consciousness. 

It may seem to us as though our own experience of our existence is less concerning than the events of the wider world, until we realize that every single event in the wider world is populated with each of us.  Every participant in world events, from the lowliest individual to the heads of state and the most famous and celebrated individuals involved—each of us has only the same singular experience of our existence.

Even though our individual experience is only one of many, the ripples of consequences of the collective experiences of all, combine in every case to influence events in one way or another.  Many times throughout human history, while the famous and celebrated have garnered much attention for their actions, and in many cases, rightfully so, none of those actions could have come to fruition without the participation of every individual involved.

Whether we are the leader of the free world or the least well-known and unrecognized participant in a crowd of thousands, each individual contributes a portion to every moment in the larger range of world events.  We may never learn of the contributions of every individual in these events, but rest assured, if the majority of unknown spirits participating in an event can alter the outcome, as we see many times in large scale events, it is only possible with the combined strength of each individual.

How important it is then to bring to each endeavor we undertake the most aware and considered self that we can be!  This then becomes our most important task, regardless of what our social status or prominence in the world might be.

A Writer’s Dilemma

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

 

Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say

What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,

Which in the very thought renews the fear.

 

So bitter is it, death is little more;

But of the good to treat, which there I found,

Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

 

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,

So full was I of slumber at the moment

In which I had abandoned the true way.

 

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,

At that point where the valley terminated,

Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

 

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders

Vested already with (the sun’s) rays

Which leadeth others right by every road.

 

Then was the fear a little quieted

That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout

The night, which I had passed so piteously.

 

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,

Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,

Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

 

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,

Turn itself back to re-behold the pass

Which never yet a living person left.

 

Dante Alighieri – excerpt from Canto I – Inferno

Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Illustration by Paul Gustave Doré

 

 

It is often true for me, and I suppose for most other writers as well, that it is sometimes difficult to settle down enough at my writing desk or at the keyboard to give sufficient consideration to my thoughts, and so several years ago, I began to record myself dictating them into an audio device, which produced results in a way that writing with a pen or typing on the keyboard had been occasionally less effective at capturing.  The problem soon became that I had recorded so many episodes and created so many sound recordings, without taking into consideration that I would eventually want to sort them according to the subject.  Certain ones were used quickly for one reason or another and that works out when it happens, but now there are so many, I felt the need to begin to review them and figure out a way to categorize them.

 

Some of them are just rambling thoughts, some are about subjects that are not precisely within the framework of my current writing and are less useful in that way, but every once in a while something appears that astonishes me, or by some coincidence, fits perfectly within that framework and in that sense alone it has made it worthwhile to use this method.  I think it’s interesting that many of the recordings are personal and are either reminiscing or pondering “what-ifs,” or just ideas for what might become content that I could use for some future fiction project. 

 

 

I’ve written chapters with my voice that are completely a fabrication of my wandering mind or maybe a reflection on an actual memory in the bare essence of the experience, which I then embellish or expand upon, sometimes as a means of indulging my creative urgings, sometimes as a way of expressing what MIGHT have happened had I gone down a different path.  Once the juices start flowing, it’s hard to turn them off. I have a fairly active imagination and I have plenty of vivid memories of past events; I can remember the way it felt to be in those moments very well and sometimes I am surprised when I read what I wrote later.  The level of detail is occasionally stunning to me.

 

In the process of a recent review effort, I came across a particularly surprising account, recorded while I was engaged in a long distance conversation which included the opening lines to Dante’s poem, “Inferno.” The poem itself is a huge endeavor that encompasses a wide range of ideas, and which offers the reader the opportunity to explore many different aspects of the human condition, but for me, the opening was a suggestion of how purposeful reflection can illuminate potential solutions for even the most daunting of challenges.

 

 

Over the years I have accumulated a number of extraordinary experiences which took place within remote areas of forests, while exploring pathways across mountains, and in various nature preserves, many of which became openings to the ineffable world within. Dante’s references to the “forest dark,” the “things I saw there,” the “mountains foot,” and the “heart’s lake,” all leading up to “my soul, that still was fleeing onward,” resulted in the following record of reverie, recorded one night by the fire, while inhabiting the “forest, savage, rough, and stern.”

 

 

“I completely opened myself and listened. I could feel the very essence of your emotion. There wasn’t much time left to linger, and I wanted to embrace you—to reassure you.  It seemed you had sensed this and stepped toward me deliberately.  Without saying a word, I gestured with my arms my openness to such a suggestion, which you accepted without hesitation. 

 

As I held you close, I whispered words of comfort and had already determined that the embrace would continue for as long as you wanted.  Without warning, a sense of astonishment overtook me as your inner world collided with mine.  I unambiguously sensed the presence of your spirit clearly as mine opened immediately to welcome you there. It almost felt like a blending of the two—our souls were touching.  For those few brief moments, I experienced what I could only describe as the feeling of bliss.  Our embrace was warm and firm—offered and accepted equally without condition. 

 

 

After what felt like a sufficient duration to impart a sense of comfort, we both loosened our grasp just enough to pull slightly away. I still had my arms around your waist and your hands were resting gently on my arms, as our eyes met.  I felt a truly visceral connection between us.  Our faces were briefly only inches apart. I stared directly at you for maybe thirty seconds and I did not want to turn away.  Even though words probably weren’t necessary, I still somehow felt the urge to express a willingness to be available whenever the need might arise for such an exchange in the future.  You grinned widely in gratitude, and I sensed a lessening of the sadness which brought us into that moment in time.  

 

I could barely bring myself to leave you.  I stood nearby for several minutes, almost unable to move. I had trouble focusing.  At the last possible minute, as I pushed open the door and waved, I hoped that you could feel intuitively what was in my heart at that moment—I don’t want to go!  We only came together briefly in each other’s arms. The moment was fleeting, to be sure, but all the more precious because of that. 

 

 

There is more between us than what meets the eye. We have both traveled through the ages—through the eons of time—in order to meet here in this time.  We agreed before we abandoned our previous lives that we would be together in this life.  The connection is undeniable.  The years it has taken to come to fruition, the profound sense of connection which occurred immediately upon our appearance, and the subsequent recognition of love as a grace or gift, are impossible to deny.  When my heart rises, I know that it is you.  I gaze intently into your eyes. The mere sight of you raises me up and I find myself once again.

 

You used to sing to me.  You knew I would recognize that voice when I heard it.  That would be the sign that you were here.  I never could have known how challenging the future would be, nor how complicated my temporal life would be.  Somehow you knew that I would find a way to you, no matter how long it took—no matter what sacrifice was required.”

 

 

These words strike at the very heart of the river of consciousness, and it is almost painful to acknowledge the power of these sentiments as I recorded them, but they ring so true that I cannot help but do so.

 

Recognizing that love is a “grace or gift,” and not a natural entitlement of our humanity is urgently needed in our modern society. Understanding that we must somehow find a way to yield to our most urgent longings, even recognizing that they may be neither ultimately fruitful nor fully possessed, is a truth rarely emphasized in the general population these days. We routinely see individuals desperately trying to possess them, and refusing to submit to them, often with tragic results. We are flawed beings, we humans, and often refuse to acknowledge what is patently obvious, but this brief expression of longing forced me to confront this truth.

 

 

While the sense world alerts us to the visceral embodiment of love through our intense desires, the sense world only points to something far grander and more vital in our experience of life. Even just the emotional power of the grace which inhabits these experiences, points to the spirit which is foundational to that grace, and the ebb and flow of life and love, is fundamentally a result of the same rhythms which point to the foundations of formulating the meaning and purpose they serve.

 

We must have some reinforcement or confirmation in our lives in order to appreciate that even the deficits and struggles of life must be included in order to arrive at the affirmation that it is “an incomprehensible gift just to be alive.” Such a conclusion may be much more challenging to someone deprived of basic needs or afflicted by some of life’s more daunting challenges, but it is the same struggle we all have based on the myriad possibilities for each life.

Hope Springs Eternal

 

 

 

                                                                        “Hope” is the thing with feathers—
                                                                       That perches in the soul—
                                                                       And sings a tune without the words—
                                                                       And never stops—at all—

                                                                       And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
                                                                       And sore must be the storm—
                                                                       That could abash the little Bird
                                                                       That kept so many warm—

                                                                       I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
                                                                       And on the strangest Sea—
                                                                       Yet—never-in Extremity,
                                                                       It asked a crumb—of me.


                                                                       Emily Dickinson – 1861

 

 

 

Anyone paying attention to the state of affairs in America recently knows well the challenges we have had to face these days, some of which we share with the rest of the world like the global pandemic and its economic fallout, and some that are uniquely American, not the least of which has been a terribly divisive and contentious election process this November.

While these issues have often seemed to dominate the relentless range of available news in the world’s media outlets, they often haven’t fairly and accurately represented the broad range of positive and noteworthy efforts by innumerable individuals that have accompanied those difficulties. News organizations tend to emphasize the more sensational aspects of these events generally, and in order to get a more balanced perspective, it seems that we must not only temper our exposure to such reports these days, but we also need to dig a bit deeper for sources of information that can provide additional input to help us gain that greater balance.

 

 

Emily Dickinson provides us with a good starting point in her poem, which begins with “Hope” is the thing with feathers, immediately leading us to infer a metaphorical association, as a feature which “dwells inside the human spirit,” according to an analysis on http://www.litcharts.com, and which was “written to honor the human capacity for hope.”

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief in America when the news came that there would be a change in our national leadership, and while there has been an unfortunate lack of acknowledgement by everyone in the positions of influence regarding the ultimate outcome, there can be no doubt that the tide has now turned back toward the preservation of our democracy, and away from the deliberate efforts to undermine the collective values enumerated in our founding documents.

Beyond these pressing considerations of our current national circumstances, there are other concerns that require our attention, which are much closer to our hearts and minds as members of our extended families and local communities. This morning, as I slowly rose to waking consciousness, there was an echo of a particular theme upon which I have been ruminating of late, and it played subtly over and over in my head, prompting me to sit down at the writing desk to capture whatever I could of the momentum I had built as I contemplated the start of yet another day.

 

 

There can be no greater task for us as living beings than to achieve a degree of urgency in recognizing just how tenuous and fragile our existence might become if we do not attend to our individual lives as being a part of something much greater than the daily machinations of national governance or to the selfish tendency of some to restrict their concerns to a more narrow-minded viewpoint. Our fortunes clearly do rise and fall together in important ways, and unless we can step back to some degree from the limitations produced by such viewpoints, we may eventually find ourselves in even more dire circumstances than those which might have prevailed had we not done so.

Right within our own very personal environments now, we have come face-to-face with the necessity to avoid close contact with others in order to keep us safe from a deadly virus. The very structure of our social lives has been disrupted in a myriad of ways, and as we observe the necessary precautions to preserve our health and restore a sense of normalcy, we have begun to see much more clearly how important our personal connections to others have been all along, and their absence is keenly felt.

Our family gatherings and typical celebrations have been relegated to sharing in the much less personal venues of video images and exchanges made available through the internet. While these options have their own sort of appeal by providing opportunities to actually SEE each other and to interact when being together in person is not possible, the visceral experience of proximity with other human beings is immediately raised to a level of appreciation that we hardly knew would figure so prominently in its absence.

 

 

As the year slowly winds down, we reflect on the astonishing parallels of this absence, to those which we experience in a variety of situations of loss. We miss the proximity and the personal interactions with those we have already lost over the preceding years of our lives, having accepted as far as we can the unavoidable aspects of age, accident, or illness, as well as the inevitable changes which occur as a result of the variety of fluctuations within relationships of every sort. If we are even minimally aware of the importance of our social relationships, we quickly appreciate the significance of the consequences wrought by the pandemic.

Our celebrations this holiday season will be severely limited in comparison to other years, and perhaps there might not be any better circumstance for regaining our perspective on the importance of being able to interact with our close family relations and our dearest friends. We can no longer take such relationships for granted, and once the threat of illness from the virus subsides, we should not forget the sense of loss we now feel.

 

 

A few years ago, as I documented in a previous posting at year’s end, I wrote a scripted scene which my niece and I performed for my immediate family at our annual Christmas gathering. Within that text, I included this excerpt, which now seems prescient.

“There are so many reasons for me to have hope for the future, however long it might be for me. In spite of the sometimes unceremonious departures from this life of others in the same neighborhood of age as mine, I have seen the brightness of spirit that filled many of the moments of their lives, and I am heartened beyond measure to have shared such a range of wonders with these bright spirits, that it begs the question for me…What contribution have I made…and what might I still contribute in the days to come… especially at this time in my life, when every morning is a gift, and every effort requires the presence of hope.”

May all of my readers and visitors here at John’s Consciousness embrace the spirit of the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate it, and my wish for you all is a prosperous and healthy new year to come. I look forward to sharing with all of you in 2021 and thank you all for your continued generosity and kindness as this year winds down to a close.

A Cascade of Autumn Leaves

 

Last Gasp of Summer

Sitting out in the backyard on a November morning with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures approaching 75 degrees F, sipping on my morning coffee, it seems almost surreal given the circumstances.  Perhaps it is the last gasp of summer, or simply a consequence of a random twist or turn in the weather patterns bringing warmer air from the south currently, but whatever is responsible, it is a welcome development. The warmth of the sun on my skin is oddly out of sync with the calendar as we approach mid-November, but even as I embrace the experience of the ambient air and savor the flavor of my morning jo, I know well that it cannot last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and allow the thoughts to flow out of me while it lasts.

 

 

The day is young and there isn’t much activity in the surrounding area yet, so it is relatively quiet, with a few more distant sounds barely discernible in the background. Within there is a barely noticeable sensation of anticipation, which seems to be cautiously awaiting acknowledgement as I let go of the temporal stream of events, and open to the vibrations of my inner life.  So much of what flows through the conscious mind can be ignored or cast aside in favor of the immediate circumstance one finds one’s self in until an effort is made to focus more specifically on a separate task, and it takes an extra degree of attention to filter out what may somehow interrupt the flow of attention and disrupt your focus.

 

As I sat contemplating my next sentence, a tiny baby spider dropped on my laptop screen, momentarily interrupting my concentration, just as a curious young squirrel stirred right beside my chair, apparently expecting some sort of attention as well. 

 

Intermittent Moments of Silence

The silence is intermittent as the neighbors on either side of us stir and attend to their chores, but as I wait for the next moment of silence, I begin to notice other audible intrusions in the distance.  The leaves have begun to fall in earnest now from the backyard tree and with the gentle wind stirring occasionally, bits of tree branches or other debris also drops to the ground, disturbing the intermittent silences.

It is curious to me how much is transpiring at every moment in the yard that is only apparent when sitting in a chair awaiting the moments of quiet.  The movements of nature are generally detectable as they catch my eye, whereas the actions of people are obvious at a much greater distance since they can be heard more easily than seen.  As the sounds reach my ears and are processed by my brain, I am able to discern what they are and to decipher the degree of attention they may or may not deserve, but the activity of the natural inhabitants in the yard barely make a sound.

Now it has become a contest to see how long I can go with near-total silence before being interrupted by one or the other of the distractions currently available.  The relentless drone of distant traffic is easy enough to filter out, and the occasional bird song or squirrel chatter isn’t particularly intrusive, but even a distant single-engine plane can intrude in a way that requires a pause in the absorption of silence.

 

Melancholy Beauty

There’s a distinctly melancholy beauty about such an afternoon.  There’s hardly a cloud in the deeply blue sky; the air is unusually warm and dry; the wind rises and then dissipates in an unpredictable rhythm.  The cats have joined me in the afternoon sun, attending to their routines at my feet, and as I type these words, I feel a degree of calm that is uncommonly pleasing and refreshing.  I’m almost hypnotized by the sweetness and delightful lack of concern I’m experiencing about what comes next. This is a new sensation for me, and even though I know it will not persist as the day rambles on toward the darkness of night, I am content to allow myself to absorb each and every aspect of this sensation for as long as it lasts.  I am able to close my eyes briefly and imagine a time and place where such delight might be available on demand, but quickly realize that the pleasure is heightened by the rarity of opportunity for such experiences, and easily dismiss the idea in favor of the kind of serendipity which produced these circumstances.  When I open my eyes, I begin to look around and observe my world of the moment, to take notice of this melancholy beauty.  

 

The leaves are thinner on the branches than they were yesterday.  They are falling all around me. The air is oddly warmer than usual for the middle of November; there is a gentle breeze that stirs every so often which releases the tenuous leaves for their short trip to the ground, and there are thousands of leaves already laying on every surface outside.  It’s hard to believe that I had swept off the porch out back just yesterday, when I stand at the wall looking out over the scene.

I savor the mildness in the air and the easy breezes which send a cascade of autumn leaves all around me, and I am able to catch a few as they descend in mid-air.  These are the ones I will press into my writer’s journal and preserve them between the pages as I have many times before. 

 

Occasionally, as I peruse one of the hundreds of books on the shelves in my office, looking for a passage to quote or when reviewing the pages from one of my journals, I will encounter a leaf that was placed there years ago, and it always brings a smile to my face, knowing that it was collected from some late autumn day, sitting outside somewhere, fully intending to rediscover it at some later date.

The coffee is starting to cool off now, as I approach the bottom of the cup, and it’s time to refresh it, and review what I have written today.  The words are only pointing toward a thought, a sensation, or a feeling; they reach out in an attempt to capture a moment in time, and to make it possible for the reader to share in that moment.  

For me, it is a delight and a privilege to have this moment of life, on a warm and luminously beautiful autumn afternoon.  One day, on some bitter cold winter morning, as I prepare my coffee in the kitchen, I will bring up this entry on my laptop, and relish the memory of every delightful second, inhaling the fresh air, the sensation of warmth from the sun on my skin, and the periodic moments of silence that inhabit my world as I contemplate the exquisite pleasure I once enjoyed on one fall afternoon, not so long ago.

Epilog:

This morning before I posted this entry, I walked out into the brilliant sunlight out in the backyard; I was astonished to see that overnight nearly every leaf left on the trees just yesterday appeared now to be on the ground.  The trees out back are now almost completely leafless, with a few stragglers still clinging to the nearly bare branches. 

It began to sink in that winter is well on its way now, with cooler temperatures and shorter days, and reluctantly grabbed the rake out of the shed to clear the avalanche of leaves off the deck.  As I began to work, I enjoyed a brief moment of Zen, looking down at the various and multi-colored remnants of the season now ending, embracing with gratitude, the memory of the numerous pleasures experienced during the autumn this year, while still hoping for a gentle or less harsh winter season to come.